May 23: A Final Day in Madrid

May 23rd, 2023 marked our last full day in the great city of Madrid. Amongst the group there were a lot of mixed feelings, whether it be being ready to go back home or not wanting to have to board a flight out. I know that I was one of the latter. Despite this, when I woke up I tried to look forward to the exciting day ahead of me. This was a little difficult as the night prior, I had gone out to karaoke to celebrate our last free night in the city, but I somehow managed to wake up and grab something for breakfast. 

After breakfast, we took the Metro to Las Ventas: the largest bullfighting ring in the world. The arena is extremely impressive, boasting over 23,000 seats. It also draws a large crowd, as evidenced by the amount of people trying to buy and/or sell tickets outside the arena. We were not there to watch an actual bullfight, as those took place in the evening, at 7:00pm, but instead we were here for a tour of the ring. While waiting for our tour guide, we were regaled with tales of bulls and bullfighters, particularly the uncomfortable tale of Banderillero Marco Galan, who had been injured in a not particularly pleasant location because of a bull.

A tribute outside of Las Ventas for bullfighter Jose Cubero
Exterior view of Las Ventas

We met with our tour guide at the entrance to Las Ventas. He was an incredible tour guide with a fun sense of humor and a flair for the dramatic. He showed us around the arena and informed us about bullfighting culture and history. He focused on some of the great bullfighters like “Superman” Manolete and “Batman” Bienvenida. Halfway through the tour, he asked for 2 volunteers, and I raised my hand, despite not really being informed of what I was volunteering for. It turned out that it was for a VR bullfighting experience. The bullfight was very disorientating, as I was strapped into a ring with a headset on my head and told to try to control a very blurry bull. I made it out alive, but apparently very virtually injured, as our guide informed me that I gave a performance that would have sent me straight to the arena’s infirmary. 

After that, our guide brought us through the gates to the main field of the arena and demonstrated the actual ways and styles that bullfighters used to control the bulls. It was a lot more elegant than the mess of a performance that I had given. After that, we continued to the museum by the stables. It was really interesting seeing the different paintings of the bullfighters and the different clothes that they wore. Manolete’s clothes were the most interesting as they were the clothes that he had died in. These garments, like many of the others in the museum, were still stained in blood. It was also interesting to learn about lady bullfighters and how Franco had used their prestige to increase nationalism in Spain.

The view of the arena from a stadium seat
Walking onto the field

Our tour ended with the museum, and with that came lunch. At the recommendation of our API guide Fran, a group of us went to Jarritos, located right by the arena. The place had a great atmosphere with extremely friendly staff. The food there was also very good. We ordered an Iberian ham platter as a starter, and everytime I have this iconic Spanish food item, I am reminded of how good it is and how deli ham could never compare. As a main dish, I tried an oxtail stew that was delicious and tender and went great with the potatoes that were served with it. 

After lunch, our group parted ways to get some last minute things checked off of the bucket list. It was then that the reality of leaving Madrid really started to kick in. I was reminded of how I had missed home so much prior to my trip, but now was almost dreading going back. With my time I decided to walk along Gran Vía and visit the huge Primark. Realistically, I could go to the Primark, but walking in the city for the past week had revealed just how popular this particular Primark was. And it lives up to the hype. There are floors and floors of items, almost to the point of being overwhelming. You can find so many things in that store, including umbrellas for when it randomly starts downpouring and will not let up like it did in the hour that I was in there. 

A look at Jarritos from our table
Amazing oxtail stew
A look at the 6-floor Primark on Gran Vía

Rain-free, I headed back to the hotel to get ready for our last dinner in Madrid, complete with a flamenco show. The show was incredible, and it was a surprise to learn that most, if not all of the show contained improvisation by the artists. Every flamenco dancer had a different style and presentation that added to the performance, ensuring variety and intrigue. My favorite artist was the guitar player, who played so impressively I could have sworn he had more than two hands. It was interesting to see how ingrained the art of movement is in Spanish culture. From the matadors of Las Ventas to flamenco dancers, movement is such an important undercurrent to the art and showmanship of Spain. 

This is something that I know I am going to miss. Despite being a city and despite being slower than many places in the US, I feel that Madrid values movement in an entirely different way. Movement is artful, it’s purposeful. The city is constantly begging you to keep moving, keep seeing what needs to be seen. A 15 minute walk can get you far in this city, and a 30 minute walk almost feels like nothing. It’s a city that is hard to say goodbye to, but that is all the more reason to come back.